James Harold Thornton sprayed starter fluid into the pony motor carburetor on the caterpillar. The small motor whined when he tried starting the engine. He tried again and the huge engine roared. Enormous black clouds of smoke filled the air.
"Mr. Thornton," Ron yelled, to be heard above the loud roaring engine. "Don't take the cat upon the hill today. The heavy rains have made the ground very unstable. Your son, Josh told me to look after you while he was on the road, and it isn't safe to be running the cat today and you know that."
"Don't tell me what to do, boy, you and Josh both are forgetting who the boss is around here," James Harold said. "I've been operating this baby since I was much younger than you or Josh. I know how to handle her so move out of my way, I'm going to flatten that hill today."
"Crazy old man," Ron muttered. "He's going to get himself killed yet, and today might just be the day he does it."
The huge tracks cut into the dirt road as it headed toward the hill that James Harold intended to work on. He made it to the top, dug the huge blade into the moist earth, pulled the throttle wide open, and pushed a large mound of dirt to the brink. The big machine stopped before reaching the edge of the brink with the blade raised high. Just then the steep bank gave away. Ron heard a tremendous noise then a loud thump when the cat hit the hollow below.
Ron ran toward the hollow, he was out of breath by the time he spotted the cat. James Harold lay lifeless on the hillside. The cat was still upright, still running and traveling toward Ron's house. He rushed to James Harold's side, he was out cold, but he was breathing. Ron checked James Harold's pulse and it appeared to be normal. He looked up in time to see the cat roll through his house and demolish it.
The cat rumbled, shaking the ground as it tore through several trees moving toward the highway. It was going straight and if it continues in the same direction, it would go directly through the trailer park then hit the Ship Shape market, which had above the ground gas tanks.
James Harold seemed to be all right, so Ron raced toward the cat. Maybe he could get to it before it made it to the top of the hill. Ron bent over, trying to catch his breath, he heard a crunching sound, and he raised his head to see the cat plowing through several mobile homes at the trailer park on its way to the highway.
"Thank the Lord, all those people are at work," Ron said. He breathed in and out, took off at a run trying to catch the cat before it made it to the market.
Ron just wasn't any match for the cat going at full speed, he knew in his heart there was no way he would ever make it in time. He fell to the ground exhausted, dishearten he tried to think of something other than the tragedy that was about to occur in a matter of minutes.
"James Harold's working on the hill again," Thomas Martin, the owner of the market, said. "The wind must be carrying the roaring racket, it sounds like it's real close by."
"Good grief!" the cashier yelled, looking out the window. "That monster is coming up the hill, its headed in the direction of the gas tanks and there's no one on it, it's going by itself."
"It can't be," Thomas said, peering over his glasses. "You're right; it doesn't have an operator in the cab. We better get out of here before it reaches the store."
Josh pulled into the market to fill his semi with diesel fuel before heading out on the road. He saw the enormous yellow machine moving up the hill, getting closer by the minute. He ran toward the cat, tried to leap high enough to get into the cab, but there was no way he could make it. He ran to the back of the machine, held his breath as he leaped, hoping his feet would land between the cleats.
"He made it," Thomas said. "The fool actually made it."
Josh worked his way where he could crawl across the top and made it to the cab. He shut off the engine just in time, and then there was the great relief of silence.
Ron still sat on the ground halfway up the hill. "Please, let the cat alter its direction and miss the gas tanks," he said. He rose to his feet, realizing it was quiet. He gaze toward the market to see Thomas shaking Josh's hand as he emerged from the cat and jumped to the ground.
Ron's knees trembled on the trip back down. He checked on James Harold who was fine other than for a few bruises and a sore head.
"Do you realize what you did today, Mr. Thornton"? Ron said. "Your stupidity wrecked my house, several mobile homes, plowed through a bunch of trees and came within a hair of blowing up the entire Ship Shape Market. If Josh hadn't came along when he did, the entire place would have been blown to smithereens."
"Let's go home, boy," James Harold said. "My leg will be better in a few days, then by golly, I'll flatten out that hill."
"I give up," Ron said, laughing and shaking his head. "I'll have to say one thing about you Mr. Thornton, you sure are a tough old character."
Copyright © 1998 Roy and Jo Ann Lovelace. All Rights Reserved.